If you combine a preschooler, some hiking and a little water play you’re guaranteed to have some fun! A little while ago, Ashley and I enjoyed some mommy and me time during her first “big girl” hike where she wasn’t riding in a backpack and we had an amazing time. I have such great childhood memories of my aunt taking my brother, sister and me hiking in the Shenandoah National Park just outside Charlottesville – we hiked, splashed in the streams and ate yummy treats along the way! Ashley would’ve loved some Oreos (like my aunt always had on hand for us), but unfortunately for her, all she got was banana chips and apples on our hike!
So, for our hike we headed out to the Company Mill Trail in Umstead Park. The Company Mill Trail is a looped trail of 5.8 total miles, but we only hiked a two mile trip that consisted of one mile down to the water/old mill and one mile back. The entrance to the trail is located in the back left corner of the main parking lot of the Harrison Ave entrance to Umstead. As you head toward the trail head you’ll pass several picnic tables and a large pavilion, which would be a great spot for a large group cookout followed by a short hike. This trail is very shaded and moderate in difficulty with lots of tree roots and a few narrow or steep parts, so Ashley held my hand while we hiked. Her preschooler legs go faster than her brain can account for so I wanted to prevent as many scrapes and bruises as I could.
So we set off and hiked for a mile until we came to the creek. Before heading across the bridge we walked down some steep rocks and had a snack along the creek’s edge near the remnants of the old mill wall. According to an information board near the parking lot, Company Mill was built in 1810 by Anderson Page and was used for grinding wheat and corn. It was also a popular spot to have fish fries, weddings, and social gatherings before being washed away by a flood in the 1930s. There are several flat spots below the old wall and near the water that are great for stopping. A friendly photographer took our picture for us and then warned us of some water snakes he saw (luckily we didn’t see any). After our snack we headed across the bridge and turned right to join the few crowds on the large rocks near the opposite side of the creek bank. Ashley loved scooting down to the water and got tickled when I told her she could take her shoes and socks off and soak her piggies in the water. This child was in heaven! And, after a short while later we hiked the one mile route back to our car. She was pretty exhausted for the last half of the hike home, but stayed in good spirits and finished on her own…I was so proud of her!
So, if you’re looking for a short yet fun hiking trail to conquer with little ones the Company Mill Trail in Umstead Park is an excellent option.
Thumbs up: creek for splashing, views from bridge, shady, family friendly hiking option
Thumbs down: signage from parking lot to trail head